4

How I Invented the Movie

A few hours ago, I was all set to get out of my apartment and go down to State Street for some coffee, a reward, and reading time at Starbucks or Colectivo or something. A minute before I head out the door, I get a Facebook notification that there’s a get together going on at Five Guys. So, I go…read, or socialize? 

Backpack with books in tow, I head out and end up at Five Guys. It ends up being three tables pushed together full of people, and I get convinced to eat some fries. Then, we head over to Blue Velvet for martinis, because there’s a birthday in the group. So, I ask myself…read, or drink?

Then we’re at Blue Velvet, a bar I’ve never been to but is actually pretty chic. People see to be having fun, and so am I. I get suckered into buying and drinking a “Mother Pucker” sour apple-watermelon martini. And it’s delicious. But, eventually, I realize that I’m in a bar, with a backpack of books, and I haven’t read much of anything today, so I pay for my drink and head over to Colectivo for coffee, a croissant, and some reading time before they close at 10 and SNL starts at 10:30.

As I’m reading, I think to myself…what if there was, like a bar where it was socially acceptable to read? Then, I thought, how about a bar where reading is required? Like, the pages of the book are under panes of glass upon which you rest your drink, then press a button to turn the page. But then, I think wait, that wouldn’t be very social. But what if everyone was reading the same book? And what if it was on a giant screen in front of them? And they could watch it together, and it could have pictures?

And that’s how I came up with the movie.

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19

Hey, Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa.

I know it’s been a few days since I’ve posted, but the parental units are in town for the first time since October so I’ve been spending just about every waking moment with them since they arrived Friday morning. We went to Art Fair on the Square yesterday, and today, we got in the car and drove two hours to visit the setting of my dad’s all-time favorite film, Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, and some other places.

We set out from Madison at about 11:30 AM, bound for Galena, Illinois, which doubled in the movie as Chisholm, Minnesota. There was an art festival going on so the town was full of people. Galena is basically one long strip of cute little shops and old storefronts. It was very quaint and decked-out for a town that small. There, we saw the DeSoto House, which doubled as the “Welcome to Chisholm” sign; the Logan House, which was also a bar in the film; and a local doctor’s office which was also the front door of Moonlight Graham’s office in the movie. The weather was not looking promising, and we needed to press on to Dyersville, so we left.

An hour later, after crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa, we ambled down the dirt road that led to Field of Dreams. It was an actual baseball field built for the 1988 movie of the same name, on the Lansing Farm. The families who owned the farm bought the rights to the name, and they make money off of merchandise. Though the farmhouse where the Kinsella family lived is a private residence and closed to the public, everything outdoors is free and open to the public. It’s all still there: the baseball field, the lights, the cornfield, the bleachers where Karin fell, the spot where Archie transformed into Doc Graham, and of course, the Kinsella house. I learned that when they made the film, they actually had to build a platform in the cornfield so that Kevin Costner could be seen above the cornstalks. There was a family there playing baseball, but Dad and I were able to walk around the bases together. I even walked down a few trails to find some geocaches and took funny pictures with the corn. Everyone visiting and working there seemed happy and chatty; true “Midwest nice.”

Other than that, there’s not much to Dyersville. We stopped at a McDonalds, and then went straight back to Madison, which was a little over two hours. All in all, it was a good day trip; Galena is adorable and the movie site is still as it was.

Thanks for reading; I’ve got a few fun blog posts in the works for this week, including reviews of the two books I finished on the ride to and from Dyersville, for which I did not have to drive, thankfully.

0

Pop Culture Showdown: So How Does That Make You Feel?

I’ve been meaning to post this for a long time, ever since I watched Heathers a few weeks ago. I haven’t had the time, so here’s hoping that this goes as well as it did in my head when it first appeared there.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Pop Culture Showdown

Episode 3: “So How Does That Make You Feel?”

One role that is seen often in movies and television shows is that of the school guidance counselor. Usually, it’s a middle-aged hippie-dippie chick with glasses on a chain around her neck and a collection of peasant blouses, dashikis, and ombre skirts. She is never the center of attention, but in some cases, plays a pivotal role in a subplot or as a supporting character. She’s usually never even thought about, so here’s her chance to shine.

Arguably the two most famous I’m-not-a-therapist-but-I-play-one-on-screen characters are the loopy Pauline Fleming in Heathers, and bulletproof Sue Snell in Carrie. (One could argue for Tina Fey’s character in Mean Girls, but then again, Mrs. Norbury was a math teacher who only acted as a schoolwide therapist.)

Originally Portrayed By:

Pauline: Penelope Milford. She was 40 years old when she landed the role. She got her start on Broadway at the age of 24, and soon transitioned over to TV and movies. Milford had a breakthrough as Vi Munson in Coming Home, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) in 1978. Curiously, she has been off the screen since 1997, when she was in Night Lawyers. She currently lives in Saugerties, New York, and apparently does very little acting.

Sue: Amy Irving. This is a bit of an interesting one, because she didn’t become a guidance counselor until Carrie 2, but acted as Carrie’s understanding friend (and only friend) in the original. She was a 23-year-old high school student in Carrie and one of the few survivors of the town, only to meet her unfortunate and grisly demise in Carrie 2, which was filmed in 1999 when she was 45 years old. Was also nominated for an Academy Award (also Best Supporting Actress) in 1983, for one of her other famous roles, Hadass in Yentl. She’s done a considerable amount of acting, and hosted the Tony Awards with Anthony Hopkins in 1994. She lives in New York City, and is still active, recently appearing on The Good Wife.

Connection with Suicide

Pauline: Warning: Unhealthy Obsession. Uses it as a weapon to get what she wants from the students as a guidance counselor.

Sue: After main character Rachel’s best friend Lisa commits suicide, Rachel goes to Sue for guidance, and in one of their meetings, shatters a glass globe on Sue’s desk, both alarming her and reminding her of Carrie White (honestly, I’m not sure no day went by when she hadn’t thought about Carrie). This leads her to believe that Rachel has telekinetic powers just like Carrie, and might have some sort of other connection to her, and basically launches the whole plot.

Dumbest Soundbite:

Pauline: “Whether to kill yourself or not is the most important decision a teenager can make.” Wait – what? Someone is paying this woman to counsel high school students?

Sue: “I had a traumatic experience in high school. I tried to help someone, and it backfired horribly.” Well, that’s an understatement if I ever heard one.

Best Animated GIF:

Pauline: Not a lot of them; this one’s pretty much it.

Sue: Again, there aren’t a lot of images out there from Carrie 2, or at least not of Sue Snell. This might be the only one, and I’m not even sure it’s from Carrie 2.

Is She Actually Helpful?

Pauline: No.

Sue: Yes, but she dies before she can be that much help.

WINNER:

Although Sue is definitely better at her job, I think Pauline Fleming is just such a funnier character. Call me crazy, but I’m picking her.

48

The Terrible Hallmark Valentine’s Day Movie Generator

I actually had a lot of fun making the Overly Dramatic Memoir Generator, and since my chill-out activity of choice these days is late-night Golden Girls marathons on Hallmark, I’ve encountered a whole lot of…commercials for really terrible sounding movies for Valentine’s Day. Seriously, why make another romantic blah-dee-blah when we have enough to watch one every day for fifty years in case we get trapped in an underground bunker while we wait for the nuclear waste to settle and the Earth to become habitable again?

Step 1: She’s a… (first letter of your first name)

A: Single

B: Widowed

C: Divorced

D: Unhappy

E: Sensitive

F: Depressed

G: Over-the-hill

H: Newly single

I: Hopelessly Romantic

J: Unlucky

K: Innocent

L: Lovesick

M: Love-lorn

N: Warm-hearted

O: Cold-hearted

P: Aging

Q: Elderly

R: Nubile

S: Young

T: Prideful

U: Unusual

V: Vain

W: Frustrated

X: Psychotic

Y: Misunderstood

Z: Fabulous

Step 2: Who is she? (month of your birth)

January: Movie Star

February: Telephone Operator

March: Ice Skater

April: Grandmother

May: Chocolatier

June: Sanitation Worker

July: Hairdresser

August: Beekeeper

September: Schoolteacher

October: Secretary

November: Call Girl

December: Lounge Singer.

Step 3: He’s a… (first letter of your last name, Step 1 List)

Step 4: Who is he? (color of your shirt)

Red: Meth Addict

Orange: Actor

Yellow: Sideshow Performer

Green: Police Officer

Blue: Surgeon

Purple: Dentist

Pink: Home Economics Teacher

Brown: Traveling Salesman

Black: Rabbi

Any Other Color: Nobody

Step 5: What happens when they… (date of your birth)

1: Start a business together?

2: Fall in a manhole together?

3: Wake up in an abandoned castle together?

4: Casually exchange glances over sippy cups?

5: Become neighbors?

6: Fight over a parking spot in front of Radio Shack?

7: Accidentally witness a federal crime?

8: Accidentally commit a federal crime?

9: Meet in a unisex handicapped bathroom?

10: Have root canals in adjacent chairs?

11: Sit together at bingo?

12: Get shipwrecked on an uncharted island?

13: Run into each other crossing the street because they’re idiots with no conception of physical space?

14: Adopt the same cat?

15: End up handcuffed together by a magician at a six-year-old’s birthday party?

16: Coach competing cheerleading squads?

17: Have to pick up trash by the side of the road as community service?

18: Get drafted into the army?

19: Walk into a plate glass window?

20: Reach for the same library book?

21: Get seated next to each other at a lesbian wedding?

22: Bump into each other at a Nickelback concert?

23: Accidentally switch bodies?

24: Accidentally switch cell phones?

25: Accidentally switch dressing rooms at Kohl’s?

26: Get jobs at Target?

27: Work the same corner?

28: Shyly smile at one another while picking up their dog’s poop in the local park?

29: Rob the same liquor store at the same time?

30: Discover they kissed at summer camp?

31: Figure out that they might be related?

Find out this Feburary 14 in Terrible Valentine’s Day Movie, 8/7 central, only on Hallmark.

My movie?

“She’s an unlucky secretary. He’s a newly single nobody. What happens when they get seated next to each other at a lesbian wedding?”

Hallmark: Television for People Who Live in a Jodi Picoult Novel

Oh, and hooray hooray for a six continent day! North America (Canada and USA), South America (Brazil), Europe (UK, Greece, Netherlands, Ireland and Romania), Asia (India, Philippines and UAE), Africa (Zambia) and Oceania (Australia).

1

The Naked and The Dead

Today, I went to the bank, ate a lot of cheese crackers, and went out to have a guy’s night with Shlomo at the movies. The Wisconsin Film Festival is in town, so we headed over to Hilldale to catch the only Israeli film in this year’s festival: The Farewell Party, a 2014 film directed by Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, starring Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Raffi Tavor, and Ilan Dar.

So long, farewell…

 

The film is a black comedy, dealing with aging and machine-assisted suicide, taking place in a Jerusalem retirement home. At the outset of the film, Yana (Aliza Rosen) calls upon her friend Yechezkel (Ze’ev Revach), a machinist and inventor, for a way to put her husband, Max – who is very old and very ill – out of his misery. A mutual friend, Rafi (Raffi Tavor) introduces Yechezkel to someone who can help: his lover Dr. Daniel (Ilan Dar), a veterinarian who has experience with sedatives and putting animals to sleep. Though initially apprehensive, Dr. Daniel eventually describes to Yechezkel the type of machine he’d need, and Yechezkel sets about to make it, a machine where pressing a button will administer a lethal dose of drugs. Yechezkel’s ladylike but dementia-suffering wife Levana (Levana Finkelstein, in a stunning performance), discovers the plans and almost blows their cover, but eventually acquiesces and becomes the fifth member of this unlikely death squad. Together, they videotape Max soberly acknowledging that this is how he wants to die, and presses the button, killing himself. To trick the nurses, Dr. Daniel briefly hooks up Rafi to Max’s heart monitor while waiting for him to flatline, and then replaces it and leaves with the rest of the group. They think that this is the end, but at Max’s funeral, a man called Dubek approaches Yana, telling her that he knows what happened (though not how) and begs for her to do the same for his ailing wife, Clara. After stalking the group at their retirement home, they acquiesce (all but Levana, who has become too emotionally fragile), and they do the same as they did to Max for Clara, who is in much better shape than they thought but presses the button anyway. Then there’s a weird musical interlude.

Meanwhile, Levana, who is frequently left alone, exhibits even more signs of dementia, doing things like putting her purse in the freezer, leaving the house with cookies burning in the oven, and eating pizza out of a garbage can. Levana and Yechezkel’s daughter, Noa, urges them to place Levana in a home for elderly dementia patients, but Yechezkel shuts her down, stubbornly refusing to see the signs of Levana’s illness until one day when Levana shows up for lunch in the nursing home dining hall completely naked. Upon returning back to her room with Yechezkel and Yana, Levana becomes hysterical, crying that she needs to be put in the home. Yechezkel then hatches a plan, taking Levana down to the nursing home’s greenhouse that night, where Yana, Rafi, and Dr. Daniel are all naked and smoking marijuana. The two join in the fun until they are caught by a security guard and warned by a social worker, who recommends that Levana go into the home for the mentally disabled.

The group unites again (sans Levana, and Yechezkel, who is taking care of her) to head to a kibbutz to use the suicide machine on their 89-year-old friend Zelda. As soon as Zelda presses the button, a fuse blows and the machine dies. Rafi calls Yechezkel to come and fix it, but since he’s promised Noa that he won’t leave Levana alone, he takes her with him to the kibbutz where once again, the machine blows a fuse when Zelda presses the button. Then after a choir sings outside Zelda’s window, she briefly reconsiders her decision before pressing the button a third time, again blowing a fuse.

We then cut to the parking lot, where we learn that the machine didn’t work and Zelda changed her mind anyway. Zelda’s brother runs out to the group in the parking lot, saying that 5000 shekel has gone missing from Zelda’s money, and though the group thinks Levana accidentally took it, Rafi is revealed to having taken it, as well as money from Max and from Clara. A furious Yechezkel wrestles Rafi to the ground, injuring himself in the process.

Soon after, Levana and Yechezkel visit the home that Noa and the social worker suggested, but find it to be a sterile environment where everyone is a vegetable. Levana reveals that this is all too much for her, and she tells Yechezkel she wants to be the machine’s next victim. Yana tells Yechezkel that he should let his wife die in dignity, with the machine. Furious, Yechezkel destroys the machine.

Later, Yechezkel leaves Levana alone for a short time while he goes and discusses what has happened with the other three, returning to discover her in bed, unconscious. The group rushes her to the hospital, where she is revived but reveals that she purposely overdosed in an attempt to kill herself. Yechezkel suddenly sees how much his wife is suffering, and builds a new machine. In the closing scene, the group stands around Levana’s bed as she apologizes to Noa and tells her not to be angry with her father, and that she is deciding herself to die with dignity. The camera then zooms in on her as Yechezkel leans over for a last kiss and her finger presses then button and the film ends.

Shlomo and I had vastly different perspectives on the film. I mean, we saw the same points, but I saw more of the comic elements than he did. I guess I just took the movie at face value. True, the story is incredibly depressing, but the idea of a bunch of old people inventing a machine to kill people, going around and doing it, and getting naked and high along the way kind of made it feel like a screwball comedy for the geriatric. At some points, I was the one doing the dying, dying laughing, that is; Zelda’s three failed attempts at activating the machine and her comments after the room went dark, Levana putting her purse in the freezer, and of course, the naked greenhouse scene, which was actually kind of sweet, knowing that Yechezkel orchestrated it so that his wife would feel less awkward about the whole naked-lunch thing.

As I said earlier, Levana Finkelstein’s portrayal of Levana was absolutely stunning; she really wowed me with her spiral into madness. Ze’ev Revach as protagonist Yechezkel and Aliza Rosen’s tough-as-nails Yana were also fun to watch, and the playful relationship between the two widows (well, one at the beginning of the film and one at the very end) made Levana’s character all the more interesting. In terms of production values, some great camera work and excellent use of color, with whites and hospital-like pastel blues and greens contrasting with the dark shadows that the characters always seemed to be in, as if their wrinkles were intended to be accentuated at every turn.

I don’t have too much criticism for the film, even though I saw what was coming at the end. Oh, and the opening credits went on way too long, as well as the opening bit with Zelda and Yechezkel on the phone. Overall, it had a good mix of moments that were humorous and moments that were heartbreaking.

It gets four stars from me.

And I think I ate about a hundred cheese crackers as I wrote this.

4

Dancing with the Enemy

So, yesterday, after the show, I went to watch the second of four films offered by this year’s Madison Israel Film Festival, Dancing at Jaffa, a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia and starring Pierre Fontaine and Yvonne Marceau. For someone who is a huge fan of documentary films, of ballroom dance, of human interest stories, and of Israel, I have to say that I was let down.

Dancing at Jaffa documents the true story of an intercultural experiment aimed at uniting two groups of children in a very unusual way: through a ballroom dance class. French ballroom dance champion Pierre Fontaine returns to Jaffa, Israel – a suburb of Tel Aviv and the city of his birth – to see how he can best contribute to the people of a divided city in a divided nation. The idea of a ballroom dance class is brilliant, and especially the way he did it, by making Jewish boys dance with Palestinian girls, and Palestinian boys with Jewish girls. Of course, the program does not run smoothly; the scenes where the children meet for the first time are wonderfully awkward, and their reactions are candid and honest. Slowly, though, the resistance to look at, to touch, and to dance with the partner of the opposite sex and religion melts away, and by the end, they all (well, most of them) dance in a competition in front of a crowd of parents, family, and friends from both communities. Other than Pierre, two of the trajectories are those of Noor, a chubby Palestinian girl who can be either incredibly shy and withdrawn, avoiding everyone or hostile and belligerent, attacking and scaring everyone; and that of Lois and Alaa. We do not learn about Noor’s partner, but we do learn that Alaa comes from a very poor Palestinian home at which Lois is shocked, and that Lois’s thing is that she was fathered by a sperm donor, which prompts an adorable scene where she tries to explain to her partner what a sperm bank is, and then is followed by an awkwardly graphic scene where Lois’s mother gives Alaa the intimate details of her procedure and of the reproductive process. She’s a wily one, that lady. Noor’s arc basically ends with her in control of her emotions and actually proving to be a very talented dancer, and Lois and Alaa take us out with a scene where they row Alaa’s father’s boat and it’s all very Hand in Hand and gooey as the credits roll.

The concept of the film is great; cute kids and a fun project. If the synopsis weren’t enough, the trailers made me want to jump right up and buy a copy of the movie for myself. However, as I mentioned before, it was not a cakewalk to sit through.

Okay, disclaimer: granted, I missed the first 20 minutes because I was still at the theatre finishing up with the costumes, but for an almost 2-hour-long movie, missing 20 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I was able to get right into it when I walked in. The main criticisms I had were the treatment of ballroom dance, the character development, and the camera work/filming style.

Okay, first, the ballroom dance. Obviously, I was not expecting to watch children do ballroom for two hours straight, because that would be boring, but they could have shown more of that and fewer tracking shots of school buses and checkpoints. The only dances that I counted were merengue (which is not something I know much about), rumba (a different style than what I’m used to, though, and tango. There was a tiny bit of foxtrot and waltz in the scenes where Pierre and his American partner, Yvonne Marceau, were demonstrating for the class, but they didn’t show them teaching it. It’s obvious that the children were not professional dancers or even actors, but I felt like I was either watching them dance the same steps over and over in different settings or just watching them talk about their lives. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor.

This leads into character development. I found it odd that almost nothing was mentioned about Noor’s partner; that would have been a great counterpoint to Lois/Alaa. It is clear that we were supposed to root for Noor, but she seemed like a whiner up until the very last moments. Unlike Lois/Alaa, the Noor scenes always seemed to be about someone other than Noor, and Noor’s relationship with that person (Noor’s mother, Noor’s teachers, Noor’s classmate, Pierre). Also, some of the adult characters were frustrating. Pierre seemed a little full of himself at times; Lois’s mother, while funny, clearly attempted to commandeer a documentary that was not about her; and there was something that one of the teachers said to a class that I thought was incredibly harsh and unwarranted. Also, there were like five different schools, and so many children that we barely knew anyone else’s name by the end.

Finally, the camera work. Pick a style and stick with it. You want to do it as if it’s a real movie, with no fourth-wall breaking? Do it that way. You want heavy confessional action? Do it with all the characters, or at least not just Pierre. And for goodness sakes, decide if you want your voice in it – there was one scene in the Palestinian neighborhood where they were talking to Alaa and some of the other boys, and it was clear that the prompts/questions were coming from the person holding the camera.

I would give it a 2 out of 5 star rating, and that’s only because I just love ballroom dance.

And hello to another six continent day, the first after a few! So, just who danced in today? North America (Canada and USA), South America (Paraguay and Colombia), Europe (UK, Hungary, France, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), Asia (India, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Burkina Faso), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

0

Punintentional: The Obtuseness That is My Life

When people tell me I’m funny, I tell them that I’m not. I tell them that I am the least funny person they will ever meet in their lives.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s moments like these that I feel like I’m a few steps behind the world.

This time last week, at Shabbat dinner, the topic of conversation was nails. Someone (Carly, maybe?) had gotten a manicure before Shabbat, and people were talking about crazy manicures and nail designs. I mentioned a friend of mine from college who painted a different design on her nails every week, according to the zodiac or something. Somebody mentioned how that was commitment, and I was like…

“Yeah, she must have had a lot of time on her hands.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

People laugh, and about two minutes pass before I understand what I just said.

I realized that I’ve done this from time to time. Back in high school, we watched the movie version of The Crucible after reading it in English class. The ending of the movie is much different than the ending of the play. After we watched it, we discussed it, and my first thought?

“I didn’t like this ending. It kinda leaves you hanging.”

I think a full five minutes passed before I got that one.

The third story is one that’s a bit more contextual, so apologies in advance if you don’t get it.

So, in my sophomore year of high school, we put on Les Miserables. Yes, that one. At our Orthodox Jewish high school. It goes without saying that it was pretty terrible, but we had a few great rehearsal moments. One time, early in the rehearsal process, we were all sitting around chatting during a break, and someone remarked on the lack of “Lovely Ladies” and the characters in that number, and people suddenly started asking questions like “where are the lovely ladies?” And some idiot said, “Do we have a Pimp?”

Without blinking, my drama teacher goes:

“No. Not anymore.”

For a split-second she looked up and around, and then laughed. Fortunately, I think she was making a joke.

I hope she was making a joke.

I have Diane to thank for this post. Thanks, Diane!

Also, hooray for being a five-continent day, all but Africa.